And or but?

English lesson- Identify the problems with the following sentences:

“I’ve lost five pounds but still have fifty to go.”

“My partner is really funny but he’s not the best dresser.”

If you’re like me, you’ll pour over the sentences and try to identity where I used improper grammar (and seriously, if I did anywhere, please let me know). But as far as I’m aware, grammatically speaking, the above statements are correct. The problem I would like to highlight is the meaning I’m conveying in the statements.

‘But’ and ‘and’ are both conjunctions, bridging two clauses of a sentence together. And implies inclusion of the first clause with the second. But implies a negation of the first clause in favor of the second.

Thinking about it in that light, what we say makes a huge difference. I just negated the progress I’ve made losing five pounds, and I’ve just negated my partner’s good qualities by focusing on what I don’t like about him. How often do we do this in our lives- negate the good by following it up by what’s wrong or what we have left to do?

And if you’re thinking, “well, thats just semantics” (I hear that defense thrown out a lot), you’re right, it is semantics- the branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning. What we say and how we say it has a lot of meaning, even if it is very subtle.

One more example:

You’re getting your review at work. Understandably, you’re nervous because this determines your raise and let’s you know what your superiors think of you (or if you’re one of those rare breeds who doesn’t get nervous, please tell me how you do this). You sit down with your boss and she says this:

“We’ve been impressed with your attention to detail and your grasp of the concepts, but your efficiency could stand to improve.”

As compared to:

“We’ve been impressed with your attention to detail and your grasp of the concepts. We think you’re doing very well in those areas. One area we’d like to see improvement is in your efficiency.”

The second may still sting and you may still cling to the negative. However, in the second example, she did not imply that your negatives outweigh or take away from your positives. She simply stated that they both exist at the same time. We all know what it feels like to hear “I like you but…” Ugh.

The way we speak is a smaller symptom of a larger problem: that we focus on the negative and take away from the positive. In an era where there is so much communication, we often see most of it as meaningless. But it does have meaning. Perhaps if we focused on the small things, bigger changes would follow.


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